IMAGE: Mike Perrault
Were you dismayed to see Portland invaded by emo sparkle-vamps when Twilight was shot in Oregon in 2008? We were too. Luckily, Portland novelist and screenwriter Jon Raymond, 38, is providing a welcome counterpoint with a series of pensive, melancholy screenplays set in the Northwest. Raymond’s novellas-turned-films Old Joy (2006) and Wendy and Lucy (2008), a meditation on poverty disguised as a girl-searching-for-her-dog story, won kudos from critics nationwide. Now Raymond is partnering with Joy and Lucy director Kelly Reichardt for Meek’s Cutoff, based on the story of the first wagon train to cross into the Willamette Valley. Raymond took a break from script writing and caring for a sick baby to talk to WW about the movie, which stars Lucy heroine Michelle Williams and is wrapping up shooting outside of Burns in Eastern Oregon—one of the least populated places in America.
WW: Is Meek’s Cutoff part of a trilogy with Reichardt?
Jon Raymond: It could be cast that way. [The films] do share a sensibility, a geography and a kind of road ethos. But it’s a post-facto designation. Part of what makes it a trilogy would be the same director, some actors overlapping, a low budget. It’s not Harry Potter.
You’ve said Meek’s Cutoff is an “ur-road movie,” with that road being the Oregon Trail. What does that mean?
That open highway concept goes all the way back to pioneers and imperialism and Manifest Destiny and all that. The road is a road toward the American empire. Not that the movie really has anything to do with that. It’s just a backdrop, but the politics of the road has changed over the years. I hope [Meek’s] resonates with larger issues, what with people dealing with scarcity and looking toward a shift from rampant individualism to more community-oriented ways of deciding things.
Have you been to Burns yet?
Yeah, I’ve been down there a few times. It’s a pretty intense situation. It’s about an hour and a half outside of Burns, so the crew has to commute for hours into the desert with trailers full of oxen and donkeys every day.
Does anyone die of dysentery?
Nope! Not a spoiler. There will be no dysentery.